When you go vegan, there are many great things waiting for you. Preventing disease, feeling fitter or lighter, having a great conscience and better connection with the animals, getting to know new awesome people and flavorful dishes. But chances are that social gatherings aren’t really something you’re looking forward to. Getting mocked or discouraged from following this lifestyle, you’re in desperate need of some great vegan comebacks that will get you through tough conversations!
We’ve been there, many times. Actually, it never really stops because you’re meeting new people all the time over the course of your life and most of them will say one or more of the upcoming common phrases. But don’t fear, there’s always a way to ease their minds or stand your ground, being as friendly or snappy as you think is appropriate.
Be aware that we tried to offer a few ways to answer each question or argument because we cannot know your personal position on everything. Some topics don’t really have “one true answer” to them and you have to choose what resonates the most with you. Just because we wrote that vegans don’t just pick the meat out of a dish and eat the rest doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do, for example.
It’s a good idea to think about how you want to come across before joining a conversation. As a vegan, you might go through different stages from “every non-vegan is so cruel and my enemy” to “I just want to be left alone, everyone can follow their own diet”. So, you can be as authentic as you need to be in each moment but please try not to be too harsh. Even though you might have heard a comment or question many times before, chances are your interlocutor has never really thought about it much – so give them the benefit of the doubt.
Now, let’s get to the vegan comebacks!
1. Where do you get your protein/calcium/nutrient x from?
This must be the one thing every vegetarian or vegan has heard before. Because once you mention your plant-based diet, everyone you’re talking to suddenly turns into a nutritionist and becomes greatly concerned with your well-being.
You know, because omnivores always eat a very nutrient-dense and “balanced” diet. Most of the time, your friend or colleague won’t really have an idea where said nutrient can be found – except for one food, which is probably an animal product.
So, where do vegans get their protein, calcium, and everything else? Food. We get it from food. Plants make all the nutrients we need, all the essential amino acids and precursors our body uses to make essential nutrients from. Legumes provide lots of protein, greens have calcium, seeds offer nice doses of iron, and so on.
One single exception would be vitamin B12 – which is made by bacteria, not animals. The reason why omnivores aren’t very often deficient in this nutrient is that the animals they eat have been getting vitamin B12 supplements with their feed. Wait, what? They eat supplements without knowing? Yeah, kind of. Apart from that, around 40% of the US population has very low levels of vitamin B12 – most of whom do eat animal products. Vegans are at least aware of it and oftentimes supplement.
Then, you could ask your interlocutor where they get their antioxidants or fiber from after explaining this. And let them know that it’s not just all about protein. Finally, more and more pro athletes are adopting a plant-based diet because it helps them become faster, stronger, and recover better. Though these might just be anecdotes, it goes to show that it’s a very beneficial way of eating.
2. The human body needs at least some amount of animal products!
For what magical nutrient do we do that? The biggest dietetic associations (in America, England, and others) have stated that a well-planned vegan diet is healthy for all stages of life – from conception to death. It’s true that animal products have some essential nutrients in them but they do occur in plants as well.
Also, food always comes in a package! And there are some nasties in meat, eggs, and dairy that you don’t want to be ingesting… such as cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, heme iron, methionine, and more. According to Michael Greger, MD, and the Institute of Medicine, there is no upper tolerable amount of saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol in one’s diet – all of it is harmful.
If someone is eating animal products to “get their B12”, they should know that they are just ingesting secondhand supplements and it would be wiser to go for the pill or drops directly. Oftentimes, this argument is needed to point out dietary inadequacies when you’re vegan – little does the other person know that people eating plant-based diets live longer on average and age more gracefully.
So, we should actually be more worried about those eating animal products than the other way around. Every diet comes with its pros and cons, you just have to be aware of them.
3. What are you allowed to eat?
We don’t follow any rules, so we are allowed to eat everything you’re allowed to, as well. The thing is that we live in alignment with our ethical values to not harm for taste pleasure or convenience – thus, we skip the meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegans eat everything they want to and it doesn’t take any more willpower for us to go for the vegan burger than it does for you to not eat bark. It just simply isn’t food to us.
You could list a few of your favorite meals here as an example of what you’re eating to show you’re not missing out on anything!
4. Vegan food is weird and unsatisfying. Don’t you miss a good burger?
This often comes with “I would be so hungry and bored by just eating tofu and salad.” Sadly, most people don’t have an understanding of what vegan meals look like! They forget that pasta, rice, potatoes, and all that delicious stuff they, too, eat is already vegan. Or they think that being a vegan means you only eat vegetables! Sure enough, that does sound unsatisfying and everyone put on such a diet would crave a burger sooner or later out of sheer starvation.
Everything an omnivore eats can be eaten as a vegan version – tuna sandwiches, mac and cheese, muffins, pizza, burgers, and more. And not every vegan eats tofu, this is totally optional. So, even if we sometimes miss the taste of a former favorite dish, there is a good likelihood that we can get a vegan version of it now. There’s the beyond meat burger, Gardein products, vegan ice cream, and much more these days. We certainly don’t miss the tummy trouble, food coma, and everything else that came with eating animal products.
If you ask what kind of meals or foods the other person typically eats, you’ll find out that everyone sticks to their 6-8, maybe even 10, favorites and just rotates them. So, even omnivores don’t have such a huge range of foods as they might think!
As a bonus, you could offer to take them out to a vegan restaurant or cook them your favorite vegan meal so they can experience the deliciousness of plant-based eating first hand.
5. We have always eaten animals, it’s totally natural and normal!
There are a lot of things human beings have done for thousands of years – like stealing or killing each other. Are these also considered normal and natural, therefore an ethically approved way of living? Though it’s true that humans have been eating animals for a long time, this isn’t a great argument for anything at all.
Being able to eat calorically denser foods than just raw fruits and veggies has helped us tremendously during our evolution – but starchy foods played a much bigger role here than meat did. Cooking starchy food was central to the dietary change that triggered and sustained the growth of the human brain, according to Professor Les Copeland.
When it comes to survival, nobody is advocating that you should rather starve to death than kill and eat another animal. It’s still not a nice thing, but it’s necessary in this case. For the longest time, human beings didn’t know any better than including animal products into their diet even though it wasn’t necessary anymore – but more and more research shows that we’re better off just sticking to plants.
Since we have the ability to just buy the plants instead of the animals at the grocery store, knowing it’s even the healthier choice, there is no excuse not to do so.
6. I only buy free range & humane slaughter is fine!
So, your steak had a great life? Taking it away is even sadder, then. Would you rather end a happy life or a miserable life? And would you personally be okay with being slaughtered that way? How do you humanely kill someone who doesn’t want to die?
All of these questions would be great comebacks – things your conversation partner probably hasn’t really thought of before. All these ads showing us “happy meat” aren’t so well thought out and are just meant to make you feel good about buying animal products. You cannot do anything violent humanely, not even by putting a shiny label on it. By wanting to know that the animal you are eating at least had a happy life and died painlessly, you are kind of admitting that the things that are happening are in and of itself cruel or worrisome.
And it’s funny how almost everyone you talk to as a vegan is among the 5% or so who is buying and consuming all of these organic animal products! And in case they don’t know for sure it’s organic, free range, and slaughtered humanely, they wouldn’t eat it and stick to a vegan meal instead. Yeah, right?
All of these labels, by the way, don’t mean much to the animals – they just get slightly different feed, a few inches more room, or the theoretical possibility to get some fresh air. They are still locked up, get their bodies mutilated, and end up at the same slaughterhouse.
7. Stop throwing your beliefs into my face, you’re not better than me!
Sometimes, people feel offended by you just living your life, without talking much about it at all. By ordering the vegan burger or the fries, by declining non-vegan food that’s offered, or even by silently eating your quinoa salad in a corner – all of these acts can play with people’s conscience and they see you as a walking ad for your “agenda”.
Most of the time, vegans don’t just suddenly start talking about their lifestyle, they get asked about it… and once the other person feels like they don’t have any good arguments against veganism anymore, they think they are being pressured or overruled.
Simply answering questions about veganism can be seen as being too preachy, a word that’s often associated with vegans. Of course, every vegan is different, has a different style and approach, so this might not apply to you at all.
Vegans aren’t magically better people than non-vegans. They try to reduce harm in the world and become better people than they used to be. There is no objective scale on which you can measure the greatness of a person but we can all improve the way we’re living right now. All other variables held constant, a meat eating person lives a more ethical life once they go vegan.
8. It’s too expensive and difficult to be vegan! Plus I don’t have the time.
Vegan staple foods are just about the cheapest at the store – think potatoes, oats, rice, beans. That’s where you get the majority of your calories as a vegan. The poorest people on the planet eat pretty much a plant-based diet (with the occasional meat for celebration) and if they can afford it, so can we.
Sure it takes a little getting used to and some more preparation to transition to and stick to a vegan diet, but that’s not a good enough reason for taking an animal’s life. It has never been easier than today to get vegan meals when you’re out, you just cannot always expect an exquisite menu and tons of choices wherever you go. Vegans happily make this compromise for their ethics and so far, nobody has starved to death just because they had to get the baked potato or green salad.
It doesn’t take more time to prepare a vegan meal at home than it would cooking up meat or cheese… rather the other way around! Couscous, pasta, lentils – ready in 10 minutes or so. Taking out a piece of bread, hummus, or grabbing an apple takes even less. Much easier to get into meal prepping, too, since plant-based foods don’t go bad so quickly or aren’t as likely to harm your health once they are a little “off” (think salmonella or other bacteria).
9. I could never do that, I would miss bacon/cheese/steak too much!
That’s what we thought, too – until we decided to cut out our favorite animal-based food and recognized that, after a week or two, our cravings went down and we didn’t really miss it so much anymore. Plus, there is basically anything you want in a vegan form these days! Sure, it’s not 100% the same thing most of the time, but at least it’s in alignment with our ethical values and that makes more than just up for that.
We sometimes hear “I wouldn’t have the willpower” when we explain that we’re vegans. The truth is that we’re not working with willpower, we just made a decision which kind of became a habit or second nature very soon. Yes, we sometimes have an emotional connection with certain foods, which is why people think they could never give it up.
You probably have the willpower not to engage in unethical things like stealing or hitting people, vegans just do the same with their food and lifestyle choices. Because the argument of something being tasty isn’t a good enough reason for doing this to other sentient beings.
If you come across the provocative version of this, which is “if animals weren’t meant to be eaten, why are they so tasty?”, you could say that cats, dogs, even people would probably be just as tasty and we don’t eat them, either – or that raw, uncooked flesh isn’t very flavorsome until you add a ton of herbs, spices, and ketchup or BBQ sauce to it. All of which come from plants.
10. Other animals kill animals too!
Sure they do and there are a few different reasons for that. These animals don’t have moral agency because they cannot conceptualize morality, therefore cannot be held accountable. Furthermore, they almost always kill to survive – which is an acceptable reason. If a human would be attacked by another human and had to kill them in order to survive, that would be acceptable.
There are animals that are carnivorous, meaning they cannot survive without eating meat. They have no choice but to kill – it’s a different situation for omnivorous animals who can live off of plants and meat. No matter if you believe that humans are omnivorous or herbivorous by nature, we can do very well when we eat a vegan diet.
Humans are not part of the food chain anymore, we removed ourselves and are living in societies where we can eat an ample amount of food every day throughout the whole year, diseases are treated or cured by medicine, we have heat and clothes and electricity.
So what’s the point of comparing yourself to a wild animal, like a lion? Since when are they great role models for humans? They fight to death over territories, eat their young, sniff each other… all of that doesn’t sound very appealing.
11. Can’t you just take the meat/cheese out of it or eat around it?
When you’re offered a meal with animal products in it and the chef or host forgot about your lifestyle and diet choices, they could feel embarrassed or like you’re making a big fuss here. While we cannot avoid cross-contamination of our food with animal products when it’s prepared in the same kitchen, it’s not unreasonable to try and avoid obvious animal products on our plate.
But most of us are appalled by the thought of a dead animal being in our food and we cannot enjoy our meal that way. It’s totally reasonable to ask for a plant-based dish and send back the one that came with the animal product in it. You will increase the request for vegan options at the restaurant and the meal might even be eaten by a waiter on their break. Animals and their products are not food to vegans, it would be equivalent to ask an omnivore if they couldn’t just “eat around” the poop.
12. Are you still vegan?
People sometimes think that veganism is just a fad like low carb or weight watchers diets are. Whereas some really just view their vegan diet as an experiment and something to cheat on here and there, most vegans stand behind their ethics and don’t just change it up. Yes, we’re still vegan. We also abstain from stealing or hitting children or drunk driving because we have educated ourselves on these topics and they don’t align with our values.
This question actually isn’t too bad because veganism has become a trend right now that people are “trying out” for a while, so it’s a reasonable thing to ask in the beginning. You can make it clear that you have adopted this new position and that it’s not just a trend or fad to you.
13. But you can still eat fish/eggs/butter, right?
All of these are from animals, so we choose not to consume them. Just because it’s not as obvious as a steak doesn’t mean that it “doesn’t count” or anything. Again, we don’t have a crazy or nonsensical set of rules! It’s understandable that not all animal products are obvious to the average consumer, some may not even think of fish as an animal. Even a “little bit of butter” which you can’t really taste is a no-no for vegans because it came from an exploited animal.
You might also want to explain here why animal products like dairy and eggs are not ethical to you because many people believe that it’s okay to consume them since “no animal died” for it. And then, let them know about all the great substitutes you have for animal-based foods!
14. Don’t you think that plants have feelings, too?
This one has many layers to it. The person using this argument implies that because plants might feel pain as well that you could just eat basically anything since it’s all the same. Even if that were the case, many many more plants have to “die” when you eat an animal product. In order to have one pound of cow flesh on your plate, you need up to 12 pounds of grains to feed that animal beforehand. All that killing of crops must be so cruel, then!
But what’s even more important is that there hasn’t been any legitimate study that can prove that plants actually do feel anything. How could they without a central nervous system or brain? Walking on or mowing grass would have to be considered a genocide, then.
Just because plants are “alive” and react to stimulants doesn’t mean that there’s much else going on there. They do show some signs of intelligence but sentience is the deciding factor here, otherwise we'd have to be concerned with the well-being of calculators as well. Animals, on the other hand, have a well-developed nervous system and you can see their clear reaction when they are in pain. From an evolutionary perspective it would make absolutely no sense that an immobile plant can feel pain but do nothing about it.
Finally, ask where they would rather take their children: apple picking or to a slaughterhouse? The answer might be a little too obvious but saying that plants have feelings isn’t really an argument that can be taken seriously, either.
15. You don’t look like you’re a vegan!
Vegans come in all shapes and sizes from all paths of life. Veganism is an ethical standpoint and doesn’t automatically mean that someone eats a very healthy diet or is scrawny. There are as many ways to eat a vegan diet as there are to eat a non-vegan diet! Being vegan just means not eating meat, eggs, dairy, and honey as well as not buying anything else an animal had to be exploited for like leather, wool, cosmetics, or tickets to the zoo.
Nowhere does it say anything about only wearing hemp clothes, not shaving, not eating junk food, or having a certain appearance. Just because people have certain assumptions or prejudices that doesn’t mean you have to live up to that. There are lots of great vegan athletes that show how vibrant, strong, fast, and healthy you can be on a vegan diet as opposed to media coverage of skinny, malnourished vegans.
16. One person cannot make a difference anyway!
Tell that to Gandhi or Martin Luther King! The truth is that it only takes a few people to inspire many others and the thing will spread like crazy. Every purchase, every dollar spent counts. Meat and dairy producers are feeling the pressure and start looking into producing plant-based alternatives. Every conversation or mentioning of a vegan lifestyle counts and helps normalize it, spreading awareness.
If everyone had the mindset of “one person doesn’t make a difference”, then nothing would get done and everyone could act like an idiot. If it were you on the line to the slaughterhouse, then it would make the biggest difference if your life was spared. To the animal, it’s the same.
Have you been getting into tough conversations around veganism before? Which questions or phrases have you heard the most and what's your response? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.